John Cage
J-S Bach
John Zorn


No (-) Music - D. Schnebel

No Music

[1] Die Kunst einer Fuge. Organist Gerd Zacher plays Johann Sebastian Bach's 'Contrapunctus I' ten times. The project ends with a performance entitled, 'No (-) Music'. No musical sounds. Not audible. 'No (-) Music' is based on the rests in bars 71 and 72 where 'everything audible vanishes'. 'Bach says, 'In all devotional [andächtig] music God is constantly present in his grace'. The German word 'andächtig' (devout) is derived from the term 'denken' (to think). Thinking must accordingly be considered as a gift bearing a promise (even, when no music is sounding)'. Zacher appeals to our imaginative powers, where our attention to the music no longer needs to be fuelled by actual musical sounds. Just a few motions (is Zacher conducting here?) bring the imaginary music to life. Unconventional motions. (Pictures portraying these motions are included in the CD jacket.) 'The gestures themselves ... go beyond the usual indicative movements in conducting practice with professional musicians: here the signs are given in such a way that they evoke memories of the nine times repeated music. One can hear in one's head'. Zacher appears from behind the organ, goes into the presbytery and begins to mime, to dance, to gesticulate, as though he were a conductor without musicians. His gestures speak in music. Unconventional gestures. But not arbitrary. The motions of his arms are determined by an imaginary placement of the four voices in four different directions, showing the skeleton of the fugue without music. Often, Zacher has a surprised look on his face: where will the theme turn up this time? But this is just play; seemingly improvising, he accurately represents the course of the voices in his pantomime.

[2] 'No (-) Music'Dedicated to the work of German composer, Dieter Schnebel. The silence of this tenth version presents the possibility of a double reading. First, - although Zacher makes no mention of it - 'No (-) Music' could bear a reference to Schnebel's composition Nostalgie: Solo für 1 Dirigenten ['Nostalgia: Solo for One Conductor']. This is a (musical) performance of at least ten minutes where the gestures of the conductor indicate an interval of time, bringing the music to an imaginary existence. Nostalgie is an 'elaboration of a conductor solo of Visible Music I. The (choreo-)graphically represented score indicates many different conductors' motions: the actual conducting (cueing, keeping time), the converting of the music into motions, and, also, the sheer painting of the music which is hardly practiced. The conductor acts, in part, entirely for himself and, in part, for and with imaginary ensembles nearby or from afar. Thus, this self-projection, this solo that is arranged in such grand fashion, brings about a purely gestural music where sounds have been lost. 'In other words, nostalgia' (Schnebel in: Metzger, 1980, p.124, my translation).
Second, 'No (-) Music' can be grafted onto Schnebel's MO-NO, Musik zum Lesen [MO-NO, Music to Read], which is also a silent project. MO-NO is a book that consists of images that may lead to imaginary music. 'This reading-book and picture-book offers neither literature nor simply art for the eye, confined to the page. Rather MO-NO is music, a music to read; more precisely: music for a reader. The reading of the book is intended to stimulate music in the listener's head. In reading the music he is alone: mono; as such he becomes the performer of music, makes music for himself' (Schnebel, 1969, cover text). The book contains texts that incite the listener to listen to sounds that enter 'from outside' (wind, voices, rain, birds). Additionally, it describes sounds that need only be imagined, a product of the reader's mind. The book contains notes but these should not be considered in a conventional way, as when they refer to musical sounds. The notes need merely be looked at in order to lead to imaginary landscapes. 'So the book sets out to lead the reading hearer (the hearing reader) to the music of sounds which surrounds us, and also to bring him into direct contact with that imaginary music which always arises within us, from sounds both real and unreal' (Schnebel, 1969, cover text).

[3] MO-NO makes one become aware of sounds around us, outside, in one's immediate surrounding, in oneself. MO-NO is about music, but also about what we cannot immediately call music but nonetheless are able to approach as music, i.e., sounds in our memory, in our head, language, conversations. Among other things, MO-NO's intention is to make one aware of these sounds, to absorb them with attention, to listen to them, to realize that they do not stop when we sleep or are unable to pay attention to them. What could the consequences of MO-NO be for 'No (-) Music'? Is 'Contrapunctus I' still resounding in the tenth version where there is only 'stillness'? It mixes with other sounds as it still resounds in our minds. Do they interfere with it, or, rather, do they add a new, unexpected dimension? 'Contrapunctus I' is not only (not even at first instance) 'read' throughout Schnebel's work. It is precisely on account of Schnebel that we can hear 'Contrapunctus I' in our own version, connected to our impressions from the previous nine interpretations, connected to other favorite versions that we know, to ambient sounds, to non-musical experiences and memories, etc. Every listener creates his own private version and context of 'Contrapunctus I'. An endless dissemination? (However, the question could be asked as to how coercive, how prescribing, how directive, Zacher's performance of 'No (-) Music' is.)

[4] In his explanatory notes to Die Kunst einer Fuge, Zacher refers to another connotation of 'No (-) Music'. 'No (-) Music' also refers to the centuries-old, classical Japanese (music) theatre called (a word that is written with the Chinese character for 'being able to', 'art', 'talent'). He writes: 'In Japanese Nô Theatre, all audible and visible events are arranged according to the syllables Jo (slow), Ha (stillness, meditation, presence), and Kiu (quick)'. Zacher adds that both the theme and the entire fugue unfold according to this tripartition. However, there is another path to follow. is a combination of modest optical art, dialogues, and heterophonic music. The music is usually performed by eight choir singers and three or four musicians, with the intention, for the most part, of creating a certain atmosphere. Dance and dialogues are generally performed by a leading actor, the shite ('he who does') and a supporting actor, the waki ('side'). While the expensively dressed, often masked shite has the entire stage at his disposal, his more modestly decked out counterplayer is relegated to the right section of the stage. The supporting actor can never play the lead. He remains the subordinate figure who finds himself literally in the margin; the waki is the margin. The waki seems to be a companion (comes) who supports his master (dux) as he performs his heroic deeds. At times, he describes the situation and asks questions to incite the shite to tell stories, to sing and dance. The shite cannot operate without the waki! The latter enables the performing and acting of the shite. What seems secondary, a supporting role, a side, becomes a prerequisite for the actions of the leading actor. The secondary, the marginal, is essential and necessary for the furthering of the plot. This is not to say that the secondary has now become primary; the waki can never become a shite. But the distinctions between the marginal and the central, the inessential and the essential are subverted or at least less clear.
is the art of leaving out. A meager set - the only permanent decoration is a painting of a pine-tree on a wooden panel behind the stage - the near absence of props, the minimal gestures, the stylized dance movements and the measured singing give rise to a sublimated aesthetics. Small changes in the position of the shite's mask suggest different facial expressions, the lifting of a hand indicates crying, a slight touch on the sleeve of a partner signals a fervent embrace and it takes only five steps to cross an ocean. Most gestures exemplify the text and represent actions and feelings. They are never realistic; rather, they are symbolic and they are subject to strict conventions. In other words, they largely appeal to the spectator's imagination. The play carries him into a world where dream and reality intermingle. Here, a comparison with the motions of a conductor urges itself upon us. A conductor directs the musical plot with numerous modest gesticulations and subtle nods. Bound to conventions. Symbolic. It could be questioned whether he can be identified with the shite or the waki. Can he be considered as the driving force behind the music, or does he function in the margin, at all times subordinate to the sounding result? And what if there is no sounding result as is the case in 'No (-) Music'? When the conductor and the audience no longer communicate through musicians, when the communication becomes 'immediate', the audience needs to resort to its own imagination for the most part. Does this increase the involvement of the conductor or does his participation at least become more clear? In 'No (-) Music', Zacher indicates the course of the voices through his gestures. In this sense, his gestures are less abstract (abstruse) - and also less conventional - than 'normal' conducting gestures. They direct our conception of the non-sounding music. Still, the spectator (listener) will need to rely on his own memories, fantasy, and imagination. The role of the conductor remains undecidable, shite and waki, (n)either shite (n)or waki.

[5] There is yet another way to 'read' the tenth interpretation. Zacher does not only want to emphasize an inner perception of music. In an attempt to question (to deconstruct) the hierarchical opposition between the auditive and the visual (the musical and the extra-musical?) that is active and obvious in music, he directs our attention to the subordinate visual aspect of music. Zacher also seems to foreground the production of music in performance, the articulation of bodily energy. This notion is strengthened by the fact that the church organ has continuously obscured his body. 'No (-) Music' is the first (visual) contact with the musician and makes the muscular movements of arms and fingers in this interpretation, as well as retroactively in the other interpretations, almost palpable. They were concealed up until then. However, in this performance, the visual comes to the aid of the auditive and sends it in the direction desired by Zacher (more or less). A paradox. Precisely at the moment where the listener needs to concentrate most intensely on the music - because 'nothing' is sounding - Zacher introduces the visual to the music. Although 'No (-) Music' is still about music, still about sounds, still in music, the focus of attention shifts to the visual aspect in/of music. Just like MO-NO.
Visual features of music. For example, the score. Zacher refrains from looking at the score as a transparent and neutral intermediary; rather, he looks at it from the viewpoint of its own materiality. His article, 'Der verdrehte Baß [the distorted bass] in Contrapunctus I aus der Kunst der Fuge' is dedicated to John Cage, the composer who taught Zacher 'to enjoy the eyes'. The article campaigns against those who substitute the three C-clefs and one F-clef from the original score by G-clefs and F-clefs because they are easier to read: 'The translation to modern keys is already a matter of interpretation and conceals the intention of the author. When Die Kunst der Fuge is played after this example, one takes one's departure from a revised score and attempts to interpret it. However, all that has come down to us from Bach is the original score, which explains more. In fact, the old keys stand in direct connection to the structure of the thusly-notated composition'. ('There is a well-grounded suspicion that the decline of the multiple counterpoint is connected to the decline of the ability to read old keys, because these keys specifically represent the ability to hear the different voices') (Zacher in: Metzger, 1993, p.7 and p.11, my translation). (Incidentally, in his analysis of 'Contrapunctus I', Alan Dickinson also assumes that Bach wished to demonstrate 'the inner, informative logic of his new fugal series to the eye' (Dickinson, p.117).) By way of illustration, Zacher returns to the idiosyncratic version of the subject as it appears in bars 32-36 in the bass (cf. Contrapunctus I) . Ultimately, he concludes that this must be a dux. He comes to a plausible explanation based on visual grounds, viz., the optical relation between the bass in bars 32-36 and the tenor in bars 40-44. When the tenor is notated in a clef other than C, this optical similarity disappears. With this, also an analytic understanding disappears that affects a performance.
As a matter of interest, Zacher cautions against the assumption that he (or Bach) would place the auditory second to the visual aspect. 'It is clear that the aesthetic pleasure with regard to the score is of immediate use for the composition: eyes, fingertips and the ear collaborate in a complex manner ... What is brought to light in bars 29-43 is a composition method, which activates the properties of the score for the sounding expression of the piece. The introduction of optic counterparts brings about acoustic counterparts, which could not have been established with conventional means. They are only challenged by the risk of  'extra-musical' components. I put the word 'extra-musical' in quotes because notes represent music de facto and actually sound in the perception of the inner ear' (Zacher in: Metzger, 1993, p.9, my translation).
Zacher points out that notation is not a neutral code. It only seems neutral because we have grown accustomed to a connection between music and writing with respect to most Western music. The illusion of neutrality is maintained by failing to stress the notation's own materiality (among other things by making use of a typography that does not attract much attention, something that many 20th century composers have since changed). To Zacher, notation is not an automated plan for communication or an unquestionable diagram, but an area of invention that leads a secret, shadowy life behind the sounding music. Notation, when regarded as an intermediary between a sender and a receiver, becomes an essential, rather than a secondary matter. Zacher puts more emphasis on the materiality of notated text, at times in separation from its function as a means that allows us entrance to musical sounds. His ideas move between attention to the materiality of the score and its function. On one hand, the score refers to something different than itself; on the other hand, it can never fully erase its own trace as material inscription. It is a useful and necessary, but also dangerous and imperfect aid. A supplement. It is supposed to represent, but it may (will) also transform that which it represents. This is what Zacher points at in his campaign against the modern notation methods of 'Contrapunctus I'. Thus, Zacher arrives at an insoluble exteriority with regard to the notation; it is an outside in the inside of musical discourse. The outside (the material exteriority, the score) has always already affected the integrity of the inside. It is not something that is added subsequently to something else; rather, it is always already outside of itself in an inside, an inside that is separated from itself at the same time (in the delay to immediate presence). It is not a representation of music that could be given to us in independence of this outside (cf. IJsseling, p.58). With his attention to a particular visual aspect of music, i.e., the score, Zacher deconstructs the boundary between inside and outside, between the intra-musical and the extra-musical (cf. Music Is a Text) .